Archive for January, 2011

Misusing Olympic Lifts

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

It has become very popular in the last few years to perform Olympic lifts for high repetitions rather than what they are meant for, (to be explosive and powerful). The problem is that when these lifts begin to be used for endurance instead of power, form is way too often sacrificed nullifying the positive effects and in many cases leading to injure. The worst is when a novice is taught this method of training. It takes years of practice and countless amounts of training, repetitions, and even going over partial movements before an individual can master the technique. When a trainer starts having a beginner perform high reps that lifter is robbed of opportunity to grasp the concept, to build explosive power, and to fully cultivate their athleticism.

I do on the other hand understand the desire to perform high repetition lifts such as snatches, cleans, and c&j’s. These workouts would definitely increase your metabolic demand, giving you a high intensity workout in a short period of time, along with increasing your power endurance. All are great things but I warn you to use extreme caution. A strong base should be established, and an understanding of how and why to perform these lifts.

Olympic lifts are extremely taxing on the central nervous system and should be taught in a responsible manner. Having an individual who has not mastered the technique attempting multiple reps (anything over 5-6) is insane and not responsible in the least. Think about this; if your form is poor to begin with, it is only going to get worse as fatigue increases.

In my opinion a better approach to train power endurance would be the use of kettlebells. Kettlebells are easier to teach, easier to learn, and the benefits can mimic that of the Olympic lifts. For novice I still recommend taking the time to become very efficient prior to performing high reps. If you really want to use the Olympic bar I advise going from the hang position rather than placing the bar on the floor. This is easier to learn and there is less of a chance of hurting your lower back with this technique. Also if you are to perform these lifts it is best to do so under the supervision of a strength coach when learning.

Good luck and keep working.


Friday, January 28th, 2011

An interesting yet scary situation has occurred at the University of Iowa this past week. One which school president Sally Mason referred to as “a case for grave concern”. On Monday after an off-season lift/workout 13 members of the university football team had to be hospitalized after becoming ill with a little-known muscle syndrome called rhabdomyolysis. There can be numerous causes for rhabdomylosis yet the more common ones such as illegal drugs (which all 13 players tested negative for), or severe physical drama caused buy an accident (e.g.,crush injury) a.k.a. an earthquake or fall from a building have also obviously been ruled out. This condition can also be caused by extreme physical exertion.

What is rhabdomylosis?

Rhabdoomyolsis is the rapid breakdown (lysis) of skeletal muscle (rhabdomyo) due to injury of the muscle tissue. As mentioned previously the damage may be caused by a number of different factors: physical (some sort of accident), chemical, or biological. The damage/devastation caused to the muscle leads to a discharge into the bloodstream of dissected products of the muscle cells. One such product myoglobin (a protein), can be harmful to the kidney. In some cases this may lead to acute kidney failure. Treatment includes intravenous fluids, and dialysis.

Luckily the 13 players appear to be having successful recoveries. However, the question still remains how could 13 different players, all of varying genetic makeups suffer the same results. What in the world type of workout where these players placed through? Could it have been that more strenuous than other team workouts to renderer such results?

Extremely intense workouts can cause rhabdomylosis to occur, but for it to occur in 13 different players is simply mind blowing. Maybe the players had been taking some sort of over the counter supplement, or maybe the workouts designed to build bigger stronger athletes actually tore them down. It is not fair to jump to conclusions prior to all the information is out. It is however fair to say that way too often coaches and trainees alike become caught-up in pursuit of physical perfection and lose track of what is productive or even safe.

It will be interesting to fall the situation and see the fallout after all the evidence is gathered.

Snow Days

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Although it has been a bummer this winter up here in the northeast with all the snow we have been getting try to look on the bright side. Every time you have had to go and shovel yourself out think of the workouts you have been getting. The amount of calories burned varies according to weight, sex, and heaviness of the snow but regardless you are still getting a decent workout in. Cleaning of your cars, walking through snow drifts, and even pushing heavy snow with a shovel.

So if cleaning yourself out cuts into your day and you can’t fit in your workout at least you expended some calories along the way.

180 lbs. male burns approximately 12-20.5 calories per minute shoveling depending on the weight of the snow. That can equal up to 1230 calories per hour. Not bad.

So stay positive and get a workout in anyway you can, just remember to lift with the legs.

The Importance of Neck Training II

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

In my last blog I discussed the importance of strengthening the upper back and neck for young athletes and individuals participating in contact sports. In today’s article I would like to suggest some exercises that will help to build strength in these areas.

Strengthening the trapezius:

  • High Pulls- Stand over a barbell with balls of feet positioned under bar slightly wider than hip width. Push hips back while squatting down to grasp the bar. Grip the bar with an over hand grip shoulder width apart and slightly outside your legs. Your shoulders should now be positioned over the bar, back is arched tightly, and arms are straight. (Having relaxed or bent elbows to begin the pull will drastically take away from your power. To execute the high pull explode upward pulling the bar off the floor by extending the hips and knees in a quick, powerful, yet controlled manner. While lifting the bar it  should remain close to the body throughout the lift, travelling upward not outward. When the bar has pasted the knees dynamically shrug the shoulders. While shrugging simultaneously raise to your toes. (This exercise involves what is known as triple extension: hips, knees, and toes.) Once full extension of the toes has been reached and the shoulders have been shrugged, forcefully pull the bar upward by extending th elbows out to the sides. The bar should reach neck height below the chin. Once full height has been reached push the hips back and allow the bar to return to the floor. If using bumper plates feel free to guide the bar downward but let go of it so as not to cause stress to the lower back, neck, or elbows.
  • Shrugs- These can be performed with d-bells, straight, or hex bars. Remember to pull straight up and down. You don’t need to role your shoulders. This causes stress to the shoulders and does not really serve a purpose for helping the lift.
  • Military Presses- This exercise will build strength in your shoulders but will also work the traps. Do not perform behind the neck. The press should begin around the collar bone.
  • Lateral Raises- When performing this exercise use caution. Lateral raises can place excessive stress on the small rotator cuff muscles. Rather than holding the arms straight try going with bent elbows. Lift the arm 20-30 degrees and no higher than parallel to the floor. The arm should be in the scapular plane of motion. Do not use any heavy weights where you must use momentum or your legs to help assist you.

Strengthening the neck:

The neck can be trained twice a week. You can use both isometric and contraction exercises. Remember to train your neck throughout all plains. When performing neck exercises keep the tension light and the reps on the higher end. Reps from 15-30. When performing isometric exercises hold from anywhere from 5 to 30 seconds. Make sure you stop before failure or poor form is reached. The following exercises are options for you to consider. Perform 1-2 sets of one exercise involving each plane per neck workout.  Be smart and don’t over train this area.

  • Neck Extension using a harness with plates,bands, or cables.
  • Neck Flexion using a plate, partners hand, or towel on the forehead.
  • Isometric Flexion Holds- 5-30 seconds (this exercise can be performed in against a wall using a towel, against a bench, or for more difficulty against a swiss ball)
  • Lateral Flexion using partner resistance with a towel or hand. Also lying on the bench sideways using a towel for cushion and a plate for resistance.

As mentioned perform these exercises twice a week. However if you are a wrestler or a combat athlete you may want to train this area more often.

For more information on neck and upper back / trap area training check out Fit to Fight by Jason Ferruggia. This book has tremendous workouts and for overall conditioning and includes great exercises to give you the impressive neck of a combat athlete.

The Importance of Neck Training

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

With all the training young athletes do to strengthen their cores, develop their explosive power, and the increase their overall strength and athleticism, they often neglect the importance of neck training. In the last 3-5 years an overwhelming amount of new information has come forward regarding concussions, the effects it has on individuals brains (both long and short), and ways to prevent or decrease the chances of being concussed. When considering ways to combat head injuries, advances in the technology of equipment have certainly been made, as well as how to better prepare ones body to protect against such injuries.

The Statistics -

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention an estimated 4 million Americans endure concussions annually. Out of those numbers about 300,000 are kids, with an estimated one out of every four young athletes suffering a concussion each year.

What and How a Concussion Occurs –

The brain is encased and protected by your skull which serves as a hard defensive shield. During sports such as football or motorcross a helmet is worn to elevate against blunt trauma. However, during a head injury often times an individuals skull can even contribute to the trauma caused as the brain can get sloshed around within the shell and even bang violently into it. This forceful movement can lead to bruising of the brain, a tearing of blood vessels, and many times leading to an injury of the nerves. When whiplash or an abrupt stopping happens there is an increased risk of such incidents occurring within the skull. That’s where the importance of a strong neck comes into play. Having strength in the neck and upper trapezius muscles can help guard against whiplash.

High school athletes have less developed neck muscles causing them to have less control over their heads after a hit, leading to an increased chance of head injury. In some sports such as soccer, female athletes have a higher percentage of concussions than do male participants. Females on average have less upper body strength than their male counterparts and when heading the ball occurs having a weak neck and trap area can be dangerous.

In my next blog I discuss different exercises to help strength the next and upper back areas.

Exercise of the Day:Antirotations

Friday, January 14th, 2011

When training spinal stability the most common exercises performed are variations of the plank and bridges. One exercise that you may want to consider adding to your regiment is the antirotation. Although most individuals train their cores for flexion remember, your abdominals are mostly used in an isometric fashion in sports as well as in everyday life. The external loads can and will come from varying angles so it is important to prepare your body for such situations.

When training rotational muscles it is most common to work with medicine balls and cables to cultivate explosive rotational power. Being able to rotate in an explosive fashion is important but what about the ability to slow down or prevent rotation? Being strong and capable of safely slowing down rotation or preventing a possible rotation which can be caused form external forces is beneficial in all contact sports as well as in everyday. In sports think of a football player breaking a tackle or in everyday life whenever and uneven load is lifted or the carrying of a heavy object on unsafe or uneven terrain. An excellent exercise to help control the body from rotation while being provoked is the antirotation. This exercise can be executed on a cable machine or preferably with a band.

Performing the antirotation:

  • Use a strong band or cable machine
  • Attach the band to a secure object such (as a power rack) at chest level
  • Stand so one side is lined up with the anchor point. If you are turned to the right, the outside of your left foot should be in line with the anchor
  • Grasp the band using a clasped grip
  • Step away from the anchor so that the band becomes tight
  • At this point you should be standing to the side of the anchor holding a taut band to your chest
  • Slowly press your arms forward until they are completely straight. The band is going to want to pull you back towards the anchor. Do not allow any rotation to occur
  • Pause for 1-2 seconds at full extension before returning to the starting position
  • Complete all your reps (10-15) before turning around and performing the other side

The antirotation can also be combined with a split-squat. Perform exactly as you would the regular antirotation the difference being that rather than standing straight up you will be in split-squat position. Have you leg in the back be on the side of the anchor.

The Importance of Keeping a Training Journal

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

If you truly want to train hard and make gains in the weight room I implore you to use a training journal. As cliche as it may sound it really is impossible to know where you are going if you don’t know where you have been. A training session should not be spent wasting time and guessing about how much weight you should be putting on the bar or how many reps you are going to do. Before stepping into the gym you should have a clear idea of your goals and a plan of attack of how you are going to reach them. By logging down your information you will be able to tell what is working, if you need to change your approach, or perhaps just tweak little things.

Besides just jotting down numbers use your note book as a “journal” on your workouts. Write down the time of day, your mode or energy level prior to the workout, what your pre workout and post workout meals consisted of, if you have any aches or pains, or any other information that you may find pertinent.

My first bit of advice when starting a workout journal is to write down your goals. After having mapped out clear goals now it is time to design a program which fits your goals. I have witnessed individuals time and again lifting weights with no particular focus or direction. Take my word for it, if this is your approach than you are cheating yourself. You can’t achieve results if you have no idea what it is you want to accomplish. Stay focused and work towards your goals. Write down everything and see how you are progressing. In a few months or a year from now it will feel good looking back and seeing all the gains you have made.

Get motivated. Get focused. Get a journal. And get to work. Good Luck.

The Daunting New Years Resolution

Monday, January 10th, 2011

New Years has come and gone and unfortunately so have many of our resolutions.  We set goals to “lose weight”, “eat healthy”, and to “get in better shape”. These plans sound great and we start off strong with so much momentum but after even a short period of time feel discouraged, burnt out, and overwhelmed by our own lofty goals. To change ones habits completely can be very daunting and when results begin to slow down, when we miss a workout, or cheat on our diet AKA “fall of the wagon”, we often throw in the towel as frustration sets in. Individuals give up on their resolutions time and time again as they become intimidated looking at the tremendous task at hand. Looking at a goal to lose fifty pounds, eat better, and gain muscle can be extremely intimidating and can often be frightening, causing the individual to give up on their goals. Instead of staring up at your goals as an insurmountable mountain, break down your goals into smaller less menacing goals.

To help avoid the common resolution pitfalls don’t allow the breaking of a diet or the missing of a workout to stop your momentum. When you miss a day don’t give up, rather promise yourself your will be better the next day. Don’t look at your diet and think of all the changes you must make at once, as an alternative cut out certain bad habits each week or each day until you have turned your behavior completely around. In his book TheIMPACT! Body Plan (which I strongly recommend) Strength Coach Todd Durkin talks about getting 1% better each day. With this philosophy imagine what kind of person you can become in a year with only small manageable improvements made each day. Yes, it will happen that you have an off day now and again, but as I said before just promise yourself that you will come back better the next day.

All your changes do not need to come at once. Know what your ultimate goal is and try to get closer to it each day. The result will be a new person before you realize it. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed or intimidated by your own goals. Improve just a little bit each day and just imagine the person you will be by next New Years.